The Irish Times view on Mario Draghi: a safe pair of hands

The former ECB chief would be a prime minister above politics – that’s a strength but also a fundamental weakness

Former head of the European Central Bank Mario Draghi looks on at the Quirinal palace after a meeting with the Italian president in Rome on Wednesday. Photograph: Alessandra Tarantino/ AFP via Getty Images

Former head of the European Central Bank Mario Draghi looks on at the Quirinal palace after a meeting with the Italian president in Rome on Wednesday. Photograph: Alessandra Tarantino/ AFP via Getty Images

 

It is both its strength and fundamental weakness that the technocratic government which Mario Draghi is attempting to form in Italy will be “above” politics. During the eurozone economic crisis, then prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was forced out to make way for Mario Monti, also a well-respected technocrat, who did the economic dirty work to get Italy out of trouble.

Draghi, the former head of the European Central Bank, is being asked to perform a similar painful reform task to Monti, notably to manage the country’s use of an infusion of 10 per cent of gross domestic product – €200 billion in Covid recovery funds, loans and grants from the EU’s new unorthodox borrowing mechanism, which he contributed to making possible while at the bank. A Draghi-led government will be very welcome to Italy’s European partners who have been deeply suspicious of Rome’s “lax” attitude to fiscal discipline.

But in asking Draghi to form a viable government after the collapse of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s majority, President Sergio Mattarella is also expecting the political novice to demonstrate the political skills required to pull together support from Italy’s extraordinarily diverse and squabbling parliamentary groups.

He starts with the backing of former prime minister Matteo Renzi’s group, which brought down Conte, and the centre-left Democratic Party. But a majority will only be possible with the backing of the right-wing League under Matteo Salvini or of the populist formerly anti-euro Five Star Movement, the backbone to Conte’s government. Five Star made its name attacking bankers and technocrats, and now says it will not back Draghi, although its parliamentary ranks are split.

Salvini has offered conditional support, but his party is well down in the polls and fears being outflanked on the far-right by the Brothers of Italy, which will not support Draghi under any circumstances.

Out of this mess Draghi needs to fashion a stable working majority. The alternative, Matarella warns, is a snap election which no-one wants.

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